Carman's Letters to Margaret Lawrence 1927-1929
by D.M.R. Bentley
by Margaret Maciejewski
New Canaan, Conneticut
18. Feb. 1928
many thanks for the letter about the books of Canadian
poetry. Importing them is going to be much too slow—and
expensive, as you say. I shall have to go look-see;
as you say one may be inundated. Just now I am rather
terrified[.] I realise again as I did in the American
Verse1 how immense
is the mass of near poetry and not poetry.
Also, how horribly trite the old manner is, the facile
outworn modes and metres. In reading over Duncan Campbell
Scott2 I was
disappointed to find how very much of all his work suffers
for want of air. Too literary and old-fashioned. And
he needn’t be. When he drops the conventional old-style,
and betakes himself to new free rhythms, he is great.
For his native taste is exquisite and needs no regular
forms to control it. And he has an unquestioned genius
for musical and happy turns. Then if you want something
fresh and refreshing turn to your own Toronto. I incline
to think "Morning in the West" by Katharine
Hale3 the most
original and best single volume of poetry Canada has
turned out,—bar none. Pratt4
is probably equal to her at least, but I don’t know
him very well yet.
the "Canadian Verse"5
comes out, I shall very likely have to go to Texas or
Santa Fe [sic] or Tucson—and stay!
I have to turn in the job by June, so it will not be
a lingering finish. If you send flowers, I should like
peonies, they are so flaunting and triumphant. No violets!
cannot leave yet on any verse-gathering expedition (worse
than samphire for a fearful trade)6
for a very simple reason, which you will understand.
Meanwhile I have looted the volumes of Roberts,7
and a few more with a ruthless zeal. And I am going
to see if I can make some of the Toronto publishers
loosen up and send me some poets cheap.
love your picture of the simple and misguided anthologist
drowned in a torrent of costly and otherwise not-so-expensive
verse unloaded on him through the mail, with bills and
customs charges attached!
hell of a fate for the Villon9
of New Canaan. And that’s
a happy title, if you only knew New Canaan!
your list and specially help me about Watson’s poems,10
don’t send any books just yet. And don’t waste any time
on the job. Stick to your essay.
I haven’t read Gertrude Atherton11
yet. I gather it is overladen with erudition and local
color and antique detail. I smile at your comparison!
Maybe you will discover one of my former escapades in
incarnation did take place in classic times—Lesbos for
But to-day in New England
is more magical and wondrous beautiful than anything
the old world ever turned out. After giving us
an almost snowless winter, the Lord of the earth turned
to last night and made such a fall of snow such as I
have rarely seen—not so much, but so fine and cling-y.
This morning the world is white. New Canaan is full
of great maples, and Sunshine House13
is almost surrounded on three sides by woods, hardwoods,
and now every twig has a load of snow an inch or more
deep. And over all the sky is soft gray as white as
love you, dear thing.
Oxford Book of American Verse. See Letter 44
Campbell Scott (1862-1947), the Ottawa-born poet,
short-story writer, and civil servant who began
to write poetry in c. 1890 under the tutelage of
Archibald Lampman (see Letter 53 n.2). His first
two volumes, The Magic House, and Other Poems
(1893) and Labor and the Angel (1898) reflect
the influence of Victorian poets, particularly,
the Pre-Raphaelites, but in New World Lyrics
and Ballads (1905), Via Borealis (1906)
and later works his influences broaden to include
late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British,
American, and European writers. The Poems of
Duncan Campbell Scott was published in 1926.
See Duncan Campbell Scott: a Book of Criticism,
ed. S.L. Dragland (1974) and The Duncan Campbell
Scott Symposium, ed. K.P. Stich (1980). [back]
in the West: a Book of Verse (1923) by Katherine
Hale (see Letter 47 n.5). [back]
John Pratt (1882-1964), the Newfoundland-born poet
who taught at Victoria College, University of Toronto
from 1920 to 1953, published his first collection
of poetry, Newfoundland Verse, in 1923. Pratt’s
Rachel: a Sea-Story of Newfoundland was privately
printed in 1917, and, by 1928, he had published
three more books: The Witches’ Brew (1925),
Titans: Two Poems (1926), and The
Iron Door: an Ode (1927). See D.G. Pitt, E.J.
Pratt, 2 vols (1984, 1987). [back]
Letter 51 n.10. [back]
is alluding to Edgar’s description of the cliffs
near Dover in Shakespeare’s King Lear IV.vi.14-15:"Halfway
down / Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful
G.D. Roberts (see Letter 41 n.1). [back]
Lourie Christie Pickthall (1883-1922), the British-born
poet and short-story writer who emigrated to Canada
in 1889, returned to England from 1912 to 1920,
and, after living briefly on Vancouver Island, died
in Vancouver. She was the author of three books
of poetry, the third published posthumously: The
Drift of Pinions (1913), The Lamp of Poor
Souls (1916), and Little Songs (1925).
The Complete Poems of Marjorie Pickthall was
published in 1925. [back]
Letter 34 n.5 and Letters 40, 44, 45, and 48. [back]
poems of Albert Durrant Watson (see Letter 1 n.3).
Atherton Franklin (1857-1948), née Horn, was a San
Francisco-born novelist and short-story writer who
published several works of realistic fiction treating
of the history of California, including The Californians
(1898), The Splendid Idle Forties (1902),
Julia France and Her Times (1912), and Black
Oxen (1923). [back]
is probably referring to Sappho: One Hundred
Lyrics (1903), which Charles G.D. Roberts describes
in his Introduction as an "interpretive reconstruction"
of the poetic fragments of Sappho, a woman poet
who was born and lived much of her life on the island
of Lesbos in the seventh century BC. [back]
Letter 1 n.1. [back]